A glance convinced one and all of them that the crevasse was impassable.
But how had the deer got over it? Surely it had not leaped that fearful chasm?
But surely it had. Close by the edge its tracks were traced in the snow, and there, upon the lower side of the cleft, was the spot from which it had sprung. On the opposite brink the disarrangement of the snow told where it had alighted, having cleared a space of sixteen or eighteen feet! This, however, was nothing to a musk-deer, that upon a deal level often bounds to more than twice that length; for these animals have been known to spring down a slope to the enormous distance of sixty feet!
The leap over the crevasse, therefore, fearful as it appeared in the eyes of our hunters, was nothing to the musk-deer, who is as nimble and sure-footed as the chamois itself.
"Enough!" said Karl, after they had stood for some minutes gazing into the lye. "There's no help for it; we must go back as we came—what says Ossaroo?"
"You speakee true, Sahib—no help for we—we no get cross—too wide leapee—no bridge—no bamboo for makee bridge—no tree here."
Ossaroo shook his head despondingly as he spoke. He was vexed at losing the game—particularly as the buck was one of the largest, and might have yielded an ounce or two of musk, which, as Ossaroo well knew, was worth a guinea an ounce in the bazaars of Calcutta.
The Hindoo glanced once more across the lye, and then turning round, uttered an exclamation, which told that he was beaten.
"Well, then, let us go back!" said Karl.
"Stay, brother!" interrupted Caspar, "a thought strikes me. Had we not better remain here for a while? The deer cannot be far off. It is, no doubt, up near the end of the ravine; but it won't stay there long. There appears to be nothing for it to eat but rocks or snow, and it won't be contented with that. If there's no outlet above, it must come back this way. Now I propose we lie in wait for it a while, and take it as it comes down again. What say you to my plan?"
"I see no harm in trying it, Caspar," replied Karl. "We had better separate, however, and each hide behind a boulder, else it may see us, and stay back. We shall give it an hour."
"Oh!" said Caspar, "I think it'll tire of being cooped up in less time than that; but we shall see."
The party now spread themselves right and left along the lower edge of the crevasse—each choosing a large rock or mass of snowy ice as a cover. Caspar went to the extreme left, and even to the edge of the glacier, where a number of large rocks rested on its surface. Having entered among these, he was hidden from the others, but presently they heard him calling out—
"Hurrah! come here!—a bridge! a bridge!"
Karl and Ossaroo left their hiding-places, and hastened to the spot.
On arriving among the boulders, they saw, to their delight, that one of the largest of these—an enormous block of gneiss—lay right across the crevasse, spanning it like a bridge, and looking as though it had been placed there by human hands! This, however, would have been impossible, as the block was full ten yards in length, and nearly as broad as it was long. Even giants could not have built such a bridge!
A little examination showed where it had fallen from the overhanging precipice—and it had rested on the glacier, perhaps, before the great cleft had yawned open beneath it. Its upper end overlapped the ice for a breadth of scarce two feet, and it seemed a wonder that so huge a weight could be sustained by such an apparently fragile prop. But there it rested; and had done so for years—perhaps for ages—suspended over the beetling chasm, as if the touch of a feather would precipitate it into the gulf below!
If Karl had been near, he might have warned his brother from crossing by such a dangerous bridge; but before he had reached the spot, Caspar had already mounted on the rock, and was hurrying over.
In a few moments he stood upon the opposite side of the crevasse; and, waving his cap in the air, shouted to the rest to follow.
The others crossed as he had done, and then the party once more deployed, and kept up the ravine, which grew narrower as they advanced, and appeared to be regularly closed in at the lop, by a perpendicular wall. Surely the deer could not escape them much longer?
"What a pity," said Caspar, "we could not throw down that great stone and widen the crack in the ice, so that the deer could not leap over it! We should then have it nicely shut up here."
"Ay, Caspar," rejoined Karl, "and where should we be then? Shut up too, I fear."
"True, brother, I did not think of that. What a terrible thing it would be to be imprisoned between these black cliffs! It would, I declare."
The words had scarce issued from Caspar's lip, when a crash was heard like the first bursting of a thunderclap, and then a deafening roar echoed up the ravine, mingled with louder peals, as though the eternal mountains were being rent asunder!
The noise reverberated from the black cliffs; eagles, that had been perched upon the rocks, rose screaming into the air; beasts of prey howled from their lurking-places; and the hitherto silent valley was all at once filled with hideous noises, as though it were the doom of the world!
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.
THE GLACIER SLIDE.
"An avalanche!" cried Karl Linden, as the first crash fell upon his ear; but on turning, he saw his mistake.
"No," he continued, with a look of terror, "it is not an avalanche! My God! my God! the glacier is in motion!"
He did not need to point out the spot. The eyes of Caspar and Ossaroo were already turned upon it.—Away down the ravine as far as they could see the surface of the glacier appeared in motion, like sea-billows; huge blocks of ice were thrown to the top and rolled over, with a rumbling crashing noise, while large blue fragments raised high above the general surface, were grinding and crumbling to pieces against the faces of the cliffs. A cloud of snow-spray, rising like a thick white mist, filled the whole ravine—as if to conceal the work of ruin that was going on—and underneath this ghostly veil, the crushing and tearing for some moments continued. Then all at once the fearful noises ceased, and only the screaming of the birds, and the howling of beasts, disturbed the silence of the place.
Pale, shuddering, almost paralysed by fear, the hunters had thrown themselves on their hands and knees, expecting every moment to feel the glacier move beneath them,—expecting to sink beneath the surface, or be crushed amidst the billows of that icy sea. So long as the dread sounds echoed in their ears, their hearts were filled with consternation, and long after the crashing and crackling ceased, they remained the victims of a terrible suspense; but they felt that that portion of the glacier upon which they were did not move. It still remained firm; would it continue so?
They knew not the moment it, too, might commence sliding downward, and bury them under its masses, or crush them in some deep crevasse.
O heavens! the thought was fearful. It had paralysed them for a moment; and for some time after the noises had ceased, they remained silent and motionless. Indeed, absurd as it may seem, each dreaded to stir, lest the very motion of his body might disturb the icy mass upon which he was kneeling!
Reflection soon came to their aid. It would never do to remain there. They were still exposed to the danger. Whither could they retreat? Up the ravine might be safer? Above them the ice had not yet stirred. The ruin had all been below—below the crevasse they had just crossed.
Perhaps the rocks would afford a footing? They would not move, at all events, even if the upper part of the glacier should give way; but was there footing to be found upon them?
They swept their eyes along the nearest cliff. It offered but little hope. Yes—upon closer inspection there was a ledge—a very narrow one, but yet capable of giving refuge to two or three men; and, above all, it was easy of access. It would serve their purpose.
Like men seeking shelter from a heavy shower, or running to get out of the way of some impending danger, all three made for the ledge; and after some moments spent in sprawling and climbing against the cliff, they found themselves standing safely upon it.—Small standing-room they had. Had there been a fourth, the place would not have accommodated him. There was just room enough for the three side by side, and standing erect.
Small as the space was, it was a welcome haven of refuge. It was the solid granite, and not the fickle ice. It looked eternal as the hills; and, standing upon it, they breathed freely.
But the danger was not over, and their apprehensions were still keen. Should the upper part of the glacier give way, what then? Although it could not reach them where they stood, the surface might sink far below its present level, and leave them on the cliff—upon that little ledge on the face of a black precipice!
Even if the upper ice held firm, there was another thought that now troubled them. Karl knew that what had occurred was a glacier slide— a phenomenon that few mortals have witnessed. He suspected that the slide had taken place in that portion of the glacier below the crevasse they had just crossed. If so, the lye would be widened, the huge gneiss rock that bridged it gone, and their retreat down the glacier cut off!
Upward they beheld nothing but the beetling cliffs meeting together. No human foot could scale them. If no outlet offered in that direction, then, indeed, might the jesting allusion of Caspar be realised. They might be imprisoned between those walls of black granite, with nought but ice for their bed, and the sky for their ceiling. It was a fearful supposition, but all three did not fail to entertain it.
As yet they could not tell whether their retreat downwards was in reality cut off. Where they stood an abutment of the cliff hid the ravine below. They had rushed to their present position, with the first instinct of preservation. In their flight, they had not thought of looking either toward the crevasse or the gneiss rock.—Other large boulders intervened, and they had not observed whether it was gone. They trembled to think of such a thing.
The hours passed; and still they dared not descend to the glacier. Night came on, and they still stood upon their narrow perch. They hungered, but it would have been of no use to go down to the cold icy surface. That would not have satisfied their appetite.
All night long they remained standing upon the narrow ledge; now on one foot, now on the other, now resting their backs against the granite wall, but all night, without closing an eye in sleep. The dread of the capricious ice kept them on their painful perch.
They could bear it no longer. With the first light of morning they determined upon descending.
The ice had remained firm during the night. No farther noises had been heard. They gradually recovered confidence; and as soon as the day began to break, all three left the ledge, and betook themselves once more to the glacier.
At first they kept close to the cliff; but, after a while, ventured out far enough to get a view of the ravine below.
Caspar mounted upon a rocky boulder that lay upon the surface of the glacier. From the top of this he could see over the others. The crevasse was many yards wide. The bridge-rock was gone!
CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.
The philosophy of the movement of glaciers is but ill understood, even by the most accomplished geologists. It is supposed that the under surface of these great icy masses is detached from the ground by the thaw which continually takes place there, caused by the radiating heat of the earth. Water is also an agent in loosening their hold; for it is well-known that currents of water—sometimes large streams,—run under the glaciers. The icy mass thus detached, and resting on an inclined surface, is carried down by its own weight.
Sometimes only a very small portion of a glacier moves, causing a fissure above the part that has given way; and at other times these fissures are closed up, by the sliding of that portion next above them. An unusually hot summer produces these effects upon the glacier ice, combined with the falling of avalanches, or mountain slides, which, with their weight, serve to impel the icy mass downwards.
The weight of our three hunters was but as a feather, and could have had no effect in giving motion to the glacier; but it is possible that the gneiss rock was just upon the balance when they crossed it. Thawed around its surface, it had no cohesion with the ice on which it rested; and, as a feather turns the scale, their crossing upon it may have produced a motion, which resulted in its fall.
So vast a mass hurled into the great cleft, and acting as a driven wedge, may have been the feather's touch that imparted motion to a section of the glacier, already hanging upon the balance, and ready to slide downwards.
Whether or not they had any agency in producing this fearful phenomenon, our travellers reflected not at the time. They were far too much terrified at the result to speculate upon causes. One after another they mounted upon the great boulder, and satisfied themselves of the facts that the crevasse had widened,—the bridge-rock had disappeared,— and their retreat was cut off!
After a little, they ventured closer to the fearful chasm. They climbed upon a ledge of the precipice, that gave them a better view of it.
From this elevation they could partially see into the cleft. At the surface it was many yards wide. It appeared to be hundreds of feet in depth. Human agency could not have bridged it. All hope of getting back down the glacier was at an end; and with consternation in their looks, they turned their faces away, and commenced ascending towards the head of the ravine.
They advanced with timid steps. They spoke not at all, or only in low murmuring voices. They looked right and left, eagerly scanning the precipice on both sides. On each side of them towered the black cliffs, like prison walls, frowning and forbidding. No ledge of any size appeared on either; no terrace, no sloping ravine, that might afford them a path out of that dark valley. The cliffs, sheer and smooth, presented no hold for the human foot. The eagles, and other birds that screamed over their heads, alone could scale them.
Still they had not lost hope. The mind does not yield to despair without full conviction. As yet they were not certain that there was no outlet to the ravine; and until certain they would not despair.
They observed the tracks of the musk-deer as they went on. But these were no longer fresh; it was the trail of yesterday.
They followed this trail with renewed hopes,—with feelings of joy. But it was not the joy of the hunter who expects ere long to overtake his game. No, directly the reverse. Hungry as all three were, they feared to overtake the game; they dreaded the discovery of fresh tracks!
You will wonder at this; but it is easily explained. They had reasoned with themselves, that if there existed any outlet above, the deer would have gone out by it. If the contrary, the animal would still be found near the head of the ravine. Nothing would have been less welcome than the sight of the deer at that moment.
Their hopes rose as they advanced. No fresh tracks appeared upon the glacier. The trail of the musk-deer still continued onward and upward. The creature had not halted, nor even strayed to either side. It had gone straight on, as though making for some retreat already known to it. Here and there it had made detours; but these had been caused by lyes in the ice, or boulders, that lay across the path.
With beating hearts the trackers kept on; now scanning the cliffs on each hand, now bending their eyes in advance.
At length they saw themselves within a hundred paces of the extreme end of the ravine, and yet no opening appeared. The precipice rose high and sheer as ever, on the right, on the left, before their faces. Nor break nor path cheered their eyes.
Where could the deer have gone? The ground above was pretty clear of debris. There were some loose rocks lying on one side. Had it hidden behind these? If so, they would soon find it; for they were within a few paces of the rocks.
They approached with caution. They had prepared their weapons for a shot. Despite their fears, they had still taken some precautions. Hunger instigated them to this.
Caspar was sent on to examine the covert of rocks, while Karl and the shikarree remained in the rear to intercept the deer if it attempted to retreat down the ravine.
Caspar approached with due caution. He crawled silently up to the boulders. He placed himself close to the largest; and, raising his head, peeped over it.
There was no deer behind the rock, nor any traces of it in the snow.
He passed on to the next, and then to the next. This brought him into a new position, and near the head of the ravine; so that he could now see the whole surface of the glacier.
There was no musk-deer to be seen; but a spectacle greeted his eyes far more welcome than the sight of the largest herd of deer could have been to the keenest hunter; and a cry of joy escaped him on the instant.
He was seen to start out from the rocks, shouting as he ran across the ravine—
"Come on, brother! we are safe yet! There's a pass! there's a pass!"
CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.
THE LONE MOUNTAIN VALLEY.
A pass there was, sure enough, that opened between the cliffs like a great gate. Why they had not perceived it sooner was because the gorge bent a little to the right before opening to this outlet; and, of course, the bend from a distance appeared to be the termination of the ravine.
A hundred yards from the bend brought them into the great gate between the cliffs, and there a view opened before their eyes that filled their hearts with joy and admiration.
Perhaps in all the world they could not have looked upon a more singular landscape. Right before their faces, and somewhat below the level on which they stood, lay a valley. It was nearly of a circular shape, and, perhaps, a league or more in circumference. In the middle of this valley was a lake several hundred yards in diameter. The whole bottom of the valley appeared to be a plane, but slightly elevated above the water level, consisting of green meadows, beautifully interspersed with copses of shrubbery and clumps of trees, with foliage of rich and varied colours. What appeared to be droves of cattle and herds of deer were browsing on the meadows, or wandering around the copses; while flocks of waterfowl disported themselves over the blue water of the lake.
So park-like was the aspect of this sequestered valley, that the eyes of our travellers instinctively wandered over its surface in search of human dwellings or the forms of human beings; and were only astonished at not perceiving either. They looked for a house,—a noble mansion,—a palace to correspond to that fair park. They looked for chimneys among the trees—for the ascending smoke. No trace of all these could be detected. A smoke there was, but it was not that of a fire. It was a white vapour that rose near one side of the valley, curling upward like steam. This surprised and puzzled them. They could not tell what caused it, but they could tell that it was not the smoke of a fire.
But the form of the valley—its dimensions—its central lake—its green meadows and trees—its browsing herds—its wild fowl might have been seen elsewhere. All these things might occur, and do occur in many parts of the earth's surface without the scene being regarded as singular or remarkable. It was not these that have led us to characterise the landscape in question as one of the most singular in the world. No—its singularity rested upon other circumstances.
One of these circumstances was, that around the valley there appeared a dark belt of nearly equal breadth, that seemed to hem it in as with a gigantic fence. A little examination told that this dark belt was a line of cliffs, that, rising up from the level bottom on all sides, fronted the valley and the lake. In other words, the valley was surrounded by a precipice. In the distance it appeared only a few yards in height, but that might be a deception of the eye.
Above the black line another circular belt encompassed the valley. It was the sloping sides of bleak barren mountains. Still another belt higher up was formed by the snowy crests of the same mountains—here in roof-like ridges, there in rounded domes, or sharp cone-shaped peaks, that pierced the heavens far above the line of eternal snow.
There seemed to be no way of entrance into this singular basin except over the line of black cliff. The gap in which our travellers stood, and the ravine through which they had ascended appeared to be its only outlet; and this, filled as it was by glacier ice, raised the summit of the pass above the level of the valley; but a sloping descent over a vast debris of fallen rocks—the "moraine" of the glacier itself— afforded a path down to the bottom of the valley.
For several minutes all three remained in the gap, viewing this strange scene with feelings that partook of the nature of admiration—of wonder—of awe. The sun was just appearing over the mountains, and his rays, falling upon the crystallised snow, were refracted to the eyes of the spectators in all the colours of the rainbow. The snow itself in one place appeared of a roseate colour, while elsewhere it was streaked and mottled with golden hues. The lake, too—here rippled by the sporting fowl, there lying calm and smooth—reflected from its blue disk the white cones of the mountains, the darker belting of the nearer cliffs, or the green foliage upon its shores.
For hours Karl Linden could have gazed upon that fairy-like scene. Caspar, of ruder mould, was entranced by its beauty; and even the hunter of the plains—the native of palm-groves and cane fields—confessed he had never beheld so beautiful a landscape. All of them were well acquainted with the Hindoo superstition concerning the Himalaya Mountains. The belief that in lonely valleys among the more inaccessible peaks, the Brahmin gods have their dwelling and their home; and they could not help fancying at that moment that the superstition might be true. Certainly, if it were true, some one of these deities, Vishnu, or Siva, or even Brahma himself, must dwell in that very valley that now lay before them.
But poetical and legendary sentiment soon vanished from the minds of our travellers. All three were hungry—hungry as wolves—and the ruling thought at the moment was to find the means for satisfying their appetites.
With this intent, therefore, they strode forward out of the gap, and commenced descending towards the bottom of the valley.
CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.
There were several kinds of animals in sight, but it was natural that the hungry hunters should choose those that were nearest for their game. The nearest also chanced to be the largest—though in the flock there were individuals of different sizes, from the bigness of a large ox to that of a Newfoundland dog. There were about a dozen in all, evidently of one kind, and the difference in size and other respects arose from a difference of age and sex.
What sort of animals they were, not one of the party could tell. Even Ossaroo did not know them. He had never seen such creatures on the plains of India. It was evident to all, however, that they were some species of oxen or buffaloes, since they bore a general resemblance to animals of the family of bovidae. First there was the great massive bull, the patriarch of the herd, standing nearly as tall as a horse, and quite as tall reckoning from the top of the stately hump on his shoulders. His curved horns spreading outward rose from a mass of thick curled hair, giving him the fierce aspect which characterises animals of the buffalo kind. But his chief peculiarity lay in the drapery of long silky hair, that from his sides, flanks, neck, belly, and thighs, hung downward until its tips almost dragged upon the grass. This singular appendage gave the animal the appearance of being short-legged, and the massive thickness of the legs themselves added to the effect.
Karl could not help remarking in the old bull a considerable resemblance to the rare musk-ox of America; an animal with which he was acquainted, from having seen stuffed specimens in the museums. He noted, however, that there was one point in which the musk-ox differed essentially from the species before him—in regard to the fail. The musk-ox is almost tailless; or, rather, his fail is so small as to be quite inconspicuous amidst the long masses of hair that adorn his croup; whereas the strange creature before them was remarkable for the large development of this appendage, which swept downward, full and wide, like the tail of a horse. The colour of the bull's body appeared black in the distance, though, in reality, it was not black, but of a dark, chocolate brown; the tail, on the contrary, was snow-white, which, from this contrast in colour, added to the singularity of the animal's appearance.
There was but one large bull in the herd; evidently the lord and master of all the others. These consisted of the females or cows, and the young. The cows were much smaller, scarce half the size of the old bull; their horns less massive, and the tails and long hair less full and flowing.
Of the young, there were some of different ages; from the half-grown bull or heifer, to the calves lately dropped; which last were tearing about over the ground, and gambolling by the feet of their mothers. About these little creatures there was a peculiarity. The long hair upon their flanks and sides had not yet made its appearance; but their whole coat was black and curly, just like that of a water-spaniel, or Newfoundland dog. In the distance, they bore a striking resemblance to these animals; and one might have fancied the herd to be a flock of buffaloes, with a number of black dogs running about in their midst.
"Whatever they be," remarked Caspar, "they look like they might be eatable. I think they're beef of some kind."
"Beef, venison, or mutton—one of the three," rejoined Karl.
Ossaroo was not particular at that moment. He could have picked a rib of wolf-meat, and thought it palatable.
"Well, we must stalk them," continued Karl. "I see no other way of getting near them but by crawling through yonder copse."
The speaker pointed to a grove, near which the animals were browsing.
Caspar and Ossaroo agreed with this suggestion, and all three, having now reached the bottom of the descent, commenced their stalk.
Without any difficulty, they succeeded in reaching the copse; and then, creeping silently through the underwood, they came to that edge of it which was closest to the browsing herd. The bushes were evergreens— rhododendrons—and formed excellent cover for a stalk; and, as yet, the game had neither seen, nor heard, nor smelt the approaching enemy. They were too distant for the arrows of Ossaroo, therefore Ossaroo could do nothing; but they were within excellent range of the rifle and double-barrel, loaded, as the latter was, with large buckshot.
Karl whispered to Caspar to choose one of the calves for the first barrel, while he himself aimed at the larger game.
The bull was too distant for either bullet or buckshot. He was standing apart, apparently acting as sentry to the herd, though this time he did not prove a watchful guardian. He had some suspicion, however, that all was not right; for, before they could fire, he seemed to have caught an alarm, and, striking the ground with his massive hoofs, he uttered a strange noise, that resembled the grunting of a hog. So exactly did it assimilate to this, that our hunters, for the moment, believed there were pigs in the place, and actually looked around to discover their whereabouts.
A moment satisfied them, that the grunting came from the bull; and, without thinking any more about it, Karl and Caspar levelled their pieces, and fired.
The reports reverberated through the valley; and the next moment the whole herd, with the bull at their head, were seen going in full gallop across the plain. Not all of them, however. A calf, and one of the cows, lay stretched upon the sward, to the great delight of the hunters, who, rushing forth from their cover, soon stood triumphant over the fallen game.
A word or two passed between them. They had determined on first cooking the calf, to appease their hunger, and were about proceeding to skin it, when a long, loud grunting sounded in their ears; and, on looking around, they beheld the great bull coming full tilt towards them, his head lowered to the ground, and his large, lustrous eyes flashing with rage and vengeance, he had only retreated a short distance, fancying, no doubt, that his whole family was after him; but, on missing two of its members, he was now on his return to rescue or revenge them.
Strange as was the animal to all three, there was no mistaking his prowess. His vast size, his wild, shaggy front and sweeping horns, the vengeful expression of his eyes, all declared him a powerful and dangerous assailant. Not one of the hunters thought for a moment of withstanding such an assault; but, shouting to each other to run for their lives, all three started off as fast as their legs would carry them.
They ran for the copse, but that would not have saved them had it been mere copse-wood. Such a huge creature as their pursuer would have dashed through copse-wood as through a field of grass; and, in reality, he did so, charging through the bushes, goring them down on all sides of him, and uttering his loud grunting like a savage boar.
It so happened that there were several large trees growing up out of the underwood, and these, fortunately, were not difficult to climb. The three hunters did not need any advice, as to what they should do under the circumstances. Each had an instinct of his own, and that instinct prompted him to take to a tree; where, of course, he would be safe enough from an animal, whose claws, if it had any, were encased in hoofs.
The bull continued for some minutes to grunt and charge backward and forward among the bushes, but, not finding any of the party, he at length returned to the plain, where the dead were lying. He first approached the cow, and then the calf, and then repeatedly passed from one to the other, placing his broad muzzle to their bodies, and uttering his grunting roar, apparently in a more plaintive strain than before.
After continuing these demonstrations for a while, he raised his head, looked over the plain, and then trotted sullenly off in the direction in which the others had gone.
Hungry as were the hunters, it was some time before they ventured to come down from their perch. But hunger overcame them at length, and descending, they picked up their various weapons—which they had dropped in their haste to climb—and, having loaded the empty barrels, they returned to the game.
These were now dragged up to the edge of the timber—so that in case the bull should take it into his head to return, they might not have so far to run for the friendly trees.
The calf was soon stripped of its skin—a fire kindled—several ribs broiled over the coals, and eaten in the shortest space of time. Such delicious veal not one of the three had ever tasted in his life. It was not that their extreme hunger occasioned them to think so, but such was really the fact, for they were no longer ignorant of what they were eating. They now knew what sort of animals they had slain, and a singular circumstance had imparted to them this knowledge. As the bull charged about in front of the thicket, Ossaroo from his perch on the tree had a good view of him, and one thing belonging to the animal Ossaroo recognised as an old acquaintance—it was his tail! Yes, that tail was not to be mistaken. Many such had Ossaroo seen and handled in his young days. Many a fly had he brushed away with just such a one, and he could have recognised it had he found it growing upon a fish.
When they returned to the quarry, Ossaroo pointed to the tail of the dead cow—not half so full and large as that of the bull, but still of similar character—and with a significant glance to the others, said—
"Know 'im now, Sahibs—Ghowry."
CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.
What Ossaroo meant was that he knew the tail; but he was as ignorant of the animal to which it was attached, as if the latter had been a dragon or a comet. Ossaroo saw that the tail was a "chowry," in other words, a fly-flapper, such as is used in the hot countries of India for brushing away flies, mosquitos, and other winged insects. Ossaroo knew it, for he had often handled one to fan the old sahib, who had been his master in the days of his boyhood.
The word chowry, however, at once suggested to the plant-hunter a train of ideas. He knew that the chowries of India were imported across the Himalayas from Chinese Tartary and Thibet; that they were the tails of a species of oxen peculiar to these countries, known as the yak, or grunting ox. Beyond a doubt then the animals they had slain were "yaks."
Karl's conjecture was the true one. It was a herd of wild yaks they had fallen in with, for they were just in the very country where these animals exist in their wild state.
Linnaeus gave to these animals the name of Bos grunniens, or grunting ox—seeing that they were clearly a species of the ox. It would be difficult to conceive a more appropriate name for them; but this did not satisfy the modern closet-naturalists—who, finding certain differences between them and other bovidae, must needs form a new genus, to accommodate this one species, and by such means render the study of zoology more difficult. Indeed, some of these gentlemen would have a genus for every species, or even variety—all of which absurd classification leads only to the multiplication of hard names and the confusion of ideas.
It is a great advantage to the student, as well as to the simple reader, when the scientific title of an animal is a word which conveys some idea of its character, and not the latinised name of Smith or Brown, Hofenshaufer or Wislizenus; but this title should usually be the specific one given to the animal. Where a genus exists so easily distinguished from all others as in the case of the old genus "bos," it is a great pity it should be cut up by fanciful systematists into bos, bubalus, bison, anoa, poephagus, ovibos, and such like. The consequence of this subdividing is that readers who are not naturalists, and even some who are, are quite puzzled by the multitude of names, and gain no clear idea of the animal mentioned. All these titles would have been well enough as specific names, such as Bos bubalus, Bos bison, Bos grunniens, etcetera, and it would have been much simpler and better to have used them so. Of course if there were many species under each of these new genera, then the case would be different, and subdivision might load to convenience. As it is, however, there are only one or two species of each, and in the case of some of the genera, as the musk-ox (ovibos) and the yak or grunting ox, only one. Why then multiply names and titles?
These systematists, however, not satisfied with the generic name given by the great systematic Linnaeus, have changed the name of the Bos grunniens to that of Poephagus grunniens, which I presume to mean the "grunting poa-eater," or the "grunting eater of poa grass!"—a very specific title indeed, though I fancy there are other kinds of oxen as well of the yak who indulge occasionally in the luxury of poa grass.
Well, this yak, or syrlak, or grunting ox, or poa-eater, whatever we may call him, is a very peculiar and useful animal. He is not only found wild in Thibet and other adjacent countries, but is domesticated, and subjected to the service of man. In fact, to the people of the high cold countries that stretch northward from the Himalayas he is what the camel is to the Arabs, or the reindeer to the people of Lapland. His long brown hair furnishes them with material out of winch they weave their tents and twist their ropes. His skin supplies them with leather. His back carries their merchandise or other burdens, or themselves when they wish to ride; and his shoulder draws their plough and their carts. His flesh is a wholesome and excellent beef, and the milk obtained from the cows—either as milk, cheese, or butter—is one of the primary articles of food among the Thibetian people.
The tails constitute an article of commerce, of no mean value. They are exported to the plains of India, where they are bought for several purposes—their principal use being for "chowries," or fly-brushes, as already observed. Among the Tartar people they are worn in the cap as bridges of distinction, and only the chiefs and distinguished lenders are permitted the privilege of wearing them. In China, also, they are similarly worn by the mandarins, first having been dyed of a bright red colour. A fine full yak's tail will fetch either in China or India quite a handsome sum of money.
There are several varieties of the yak. First, there is the true wild yak—the same as those encountered by our travellers. These are much larger than the domestic breeds, and the bulls are among the most fierce and powerful of the ox tribe. Hunting them is often accompanied by hair-breadth escapes and perilous encounters, and large dogs and horses are employed in the chase.
The tame yaks are divided into several classes, as the ploughing yak, the riding yak, etcetera, and these are not all of the dark brown colour of the original race, but are met with dun-coloured, mottled red, and even pure white. Dark brown or black, however, with a white tail, is the prevailing colour. The yak-calf is the finest veal in the world; but when the calf is taken from the mother, the cow refuses to yield milk. In such cases the foot of the calf is brought for her to lick, or the stuffed skin to fondle, when she will give milk as before, expressing her satisfaction by short grunts like a pig.
The yak when used as a beast of burden will travel twenty miles a day, under a load of two bags of rice or salt, or four or six planks of pine-wood slung in pairs along either flank. Their ears are generally pierced by their drivers, and ornamented with tufts of scarlet worsted. Their true home is on the cold table-lands of Thibet and Tartary, or still higher up among the mountain valleys of the Himalayas, where they feed on grass or the smaller species of carices. They love to browse upon steep places, and to scramble among rocks; and their favourite places for resting or sleeping are on the tops of isolated boulders, where the sun has full play upon them. When taken to warm climates, they languish, and soon die of disease of the liver. It is possible, however, that they could be acclimated in many European countries, were it taken in hand by those who alone have the power to make the trial in a proper manner—I mean the governments of these countries. But such works of utility are about the last things that the tyrants of the earth will be likely to trouble their heads with.
CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.
CURING THE YAK-MEAT.
Our travellers found the yak-veal excellent, and the three consumed a quarter of it for their breakfasts before their appetites were satisfied.
This business being brought to a conclusion, they held a council as to what was best to be done next. Of course they had already made up their minds to spend some days in this beautiful valley in plant-hunting. From the glance they had had of it, Karl had no doubt that its flora and sylva were exceedingly rich and varied. Indeed, while passing through the underwood he had noticed many curious kinds that were quite new to him, and he would be likely enough to find some altogether unknown to the botanical world. These thoughts filled him with joyful anticipations—bright visions of future triumph in his beloved science passed before his mind's eye, and he felt for the moment contented and happy.
The peculiar situation of the valley led him to expect a peculiar flora, surrounded as it was by snowy mountains—isolated apparently from other fertile tracts, and sheltered from every wind by the lofty ridges that encircled it. Among other peculiarities he had observed plants of almost tropical genera, although the altitude could not be less than 15,000 feet, and the snowy mountains that towered above it were some of the highest peaks of the Himalayas! These tropical forms had puzzled him not a little, considering the altitude at which he observed them; and to account for the apparent anomaly was one of the thoughts that was passing through his mind at the moment.
As for Caspar, he was pleased to know that his brother desired to remain there for some days. He had less interest in the rare plants, but he had observed that the place was very well stocked with wild animals, and he anticipated no little sport in hunting them.
It is just possible that Ossaroo sighed for the warm plains, for the palm-groves and bamboo thickets, but the shikarree liked the look of the game, and could spend a few days well enough in this region. Moreover, the atmosphere of the valley was much warmer than that of the country in which they had been travelling for several days past. Indeed, the difference was so great as to surprise all three of them, and they could only account for the higher temperature by supposing that it arose from the sheltered situation of the valley itself.
Having determined on remaining, therefore it became necessary to make some provision against hunger. Though the game seemed plenty enough, they might not always be so successful in stalking it; and as the yak cow offered them beef enough to last for some days, it would not do to let the meat spoil. That must be looked to at once.
Without further ado, therefore, they set about preserving the meat. Having no salt this might appear to be a difficult matter, and so it would have been to the northern travellers. But Ossaroo was a man of the tropics—in whose country salt was both scarce and dear—and consequently he knew other plans for curing meat besides pickling it. He knew how to cure it by the process called "jerking." This was a simple operation, and consisted in cutting the meat into thin slices, and either hanging it upon the branches of trees, or spreading it out upon the rock—leaving the sun to do the rest.
It happened, however, that on that day the sun did not shine very brightly, and it was not hot enough for jerking meat. But Ossaroo was not to be beaten so easily. He knew an alternative which is adopted in such cases. He knew that the meat can be jerked by the fire as well as by the sun, and this plan he at once put into operation. Having gathered a large quantity of fagots, he kindled them into a fire, and then hung the beef upon scaffolds all around it—near enough to be submitted to the heat and smoke, but not so near as that the meat should be either broiled or burnt. When it should hang thus exposed to the fire for a day or so, Ossaroo assured his companions it would be cured and dried so as to keep for months without requiring a pinch of salt.
The skinning of the yak, and then cutting its flesh into strips—the erection of the scaffold-poles, and stringing up of the meat, occupied all hands for the space of several hours, so that when the job was finished it was past midday.
Dinner had then to be cooked and eaten, which occupied nearly another hour; and although it was not yet quite nightfall, they were all so sleepy from their long vigil, and so tired with standing upon the ledge, that they were glad to stretch themselves by the fire and go to rest.
The cold air, as evening approached, caused them to shiver; and now for the first time they began to think of their blankets, and other matters which they had left at their last camp. But they only thought of them with a sigh. The road, to where these had been left, could no longer be traversed. It would no doubt be necessary for them to make a long detour over the mountains, before they could get back to that camp.
Ossaroo had prepared a substitute for one of the blankets at least. He had stretched the yak-skin upon a frame, and placed it in front of the fire, so that by night it was dry enough for some of the party to wrap their bodies in. Sure enough, when Caspar was enveloped in this strange blanket—with the hairy side turned inward—be obtained in it, as he himself declared, one of the pleasantest and soundest sleeps he had ever slept in his life.
All three, rested well enough; but had they only known of the discovery that awaited them on the morrow, their sleep would not have been so sound, nor their dreams so light.
CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.
THE BOILING SPRING.
They ate their breakfasts of boiled yak-steak, washing it down with a draught of water. They had not even a cup to hold the water. They knelt down and drank it out of the lake. The water was clear enough, but not as cold as they might have expected at such an elevation. They had noticed this on the preceding day, and now expressed their surprise at finding it so warm. They had no thermometer with which to test it, but it was evidently of much higher temperature than the air!
Whence came this water? It could not be from the melting snow—else it would certainly have been colder than it was. Perhaps there was a spring somewhere? Perhaps there was a hot spring?
This was not at all improbable, for, strange to say, hot springs are numerous on the Himalaya Mountains—often bursting out amidst ice and snow, and at very great elevations.
Karl had read of such springs, and this it was that led him to infer the existence of one in the valley. How else could the water be warm?
Now they recollected that on the previous morning they had noticed a singular cloud of vapour that hung over the tops of the trees on one side of the valley. It was no longer visible, after they had descended from the elevation at which they then were; but they remembered the direction in which it had been seen, and now went in search of it.
They soon reached the spot, and found it just as they had conjectured. A hot spring was there, bubbling out from among the rocks, and then running off in a rivulet towards the lake. Caspar thrust his hand into the water, but drew it back again with an exclamation that betokened both pain and surprise. The water was almost boiling!
"Well," said he, "this is convenient at all events. If we only had a teapot, we should need no kettle. Here's water on the boil at all hours!"
"Ha!" ejaculated Karl, as he dipped his fingers into the hot stream; "this explains the high temperature of the valley, the rich luxuriant vegetation, the presence of plants of the lower region; I thought that there was some such cause. See, yonder grow magnolias! How very interesting! I should not wonder if we meet with palms and bamboos!"
Just at that moment the attention of the party was called away from the hot spring. A noble buck came bounding up until he was within twenty yards of the spot, and then halting in his tracks, stood for some moments gazing at the intruders.
There was no mistaking this creature for any other animal than a stag. The vast antlers were characteristics that left no room to doubt of his species. He was about the size of the European stag or red-deer, and his branching horns were very similar. His colour, too, was reddish grey with a white mark around the croup, and his form and proportion were very like to those of the English stag. He was, in fact, the Asiatic representative of this very species—known to naturalists as the Cervus Wallichii.
At sight of the party around the spring, he exhibited symptoms more of surprise than of fear. Perhaps they were the first creatures of the kind his great large eyes had ever glanced upon. He knew not whether they might prove friendly or hostile.
Simple creature! He was not to remain long in doubt as to that point. The rifle was brought to bear upon him, and the next moment he was prostrate upon the ground.
It was Karl who had fired, as Caspar with the double-barrel was standing at some distance off. All three, however, ran forward to secure the game, but, to their chagrin, the stag once more rose to his feet and bounded off among the bushes, with Fritz following at his heels. They could see that he went upon three legs, and that the fourth—one of the hind ones—was broken and trailing upon the ground.
The hunters started after, in hopes of still securing the prize; but after passing through the thicket they had a view of the buck still bounding along close by the bottom of the cliffs, and as yet far ahead of the hound. It was near the cliff where the animal had been wounded, for the hot spring was close in to the rocks that bounded that side of the valley.
The dog ran on after him, and the hunters followed as fast as they were able. Karl and Ossaroo kept along the bottom of the cliff, while Caspar remained out in the open valley, in order to intercept the game should it turn outwards in the direction of the lake.
In this way they proceeded for more than half-a-mile before seeing anything more of the stag. At length the loud baying of Fritz warned them that he had overtaken the game, which was no doubt standing to bay.
This proved to be the case. Fritz was holding the buck at bay close to the edge of a thicket; but the moment the hunters came in sight, the stag again broke, dashed into the thicket, and disappeared as before.
Another half-mile was passed before they found the game again, and then the dog had brought him to bay a second time; but just as before, when the hunters were approaching, the stag made a rush into the bushes, and again got off.
It was mortifying to lose such noble game after having been so sure of it, and all determined to follow out the chase if it should last them the whole day. Karl had another motive for continuing after the deer. Karl was a person of tender and humane feelings. He saw that the ball had broken the creature's thigh-bone, and he knew the wound would cause its death in the end. He could not think of leaving it thus to die by inches, and was anxious to put an end to its misery With this view as well as for the purpose of obtaining the venison, he continued the chase.
The stag gave them another long run, before it was again brought up; and again, for the third time, it broke and made off.
They began to despair of being able to come up with it. All this while the deer had kept along the base of the cliffs, and the hunters as they ran after it could not help noticing the immense precipice that towered above their heads. It rose to the height of hundreds of feet, in some places with a slanting face, but generally almost as vertical as a wall. The chase of the wounded stag, however, occupied too much their attention to allow of their observing anything else very minutely; and so they pressed on without halting anywhere—except for a moment or so to gain breath. Six or seven times had they seen the wounded stag, and six or seven times had Fritz brought him to bay, but Fritz for his pains had only received several severe scores from the antlers of the enraged animal.
The hunters at length approached the great gap in the cliff, through which they had first entered the valley, but the chase was carried past this point and continued on as before.
Once more the loud barking of the dog announced that the deer had come to a stand; and once more the hunters hurried forward.
This time they saw the stag standing in a pool of water up to the flanks. The ground gave Caspar an opportunity to approach within a few yards without being observed by the game, and a discharge from the double-barrel put an end to the chase.
CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.
AN ALARMING DISCOVERY.
You will naturally suppose that this successful termination of the chase gave great satisfaction to the hunters. It might have done so under other circumstances, but just then their minds became occupied by thoughts of a far different nature.
As they came up to the spot where the stag had fallen, and were preparing to drag it from the pool, their eyes rested upon an object which caused them to turn toward one another with looks of strange significance. This object was no other than the hot spring—the place where the chase had begun. Within less than a hundred yards of the spot where the stag had received his first wound was he now lying dead! The pool in fact was in the little rivulet that ran from the spring to the lake.
I have said that the hunters on observing this exchanged significant glances. One fact was evident to all of them—that they had got back to the spot whence they started. A very little reasoning taught them another fact—that in the pursuit of the stag they must have made the full circuit of the valley. They had not turned back anywhere—they had not crossed the valley—they had not even been in sight of the lake during the whole chase. On the contrary, Karl with Ossaroo had kept continually along the bottom of the cliffs, sometimes in the timber, and at intervals passing across stretches of open ground.
What was there remarkable about all this? It only proved that the valley was small, and of roundish form; and that in about an hour's time any one might make the circuit of it. What was there in this discovery that should cause the hunters to stand gazing upon one another with troubled looks? Was it surprise at the stag having returned to die where he had received his wound? Certainly there was something a little singular about that, but so trifling a circumstance could not have clouded the brows of the hunters. It was not surprise that was pictured in their looks—more serious feelings were stirring within them. Their glances were those of apprehension—the fear of some danger not fully defined or certain. What danger?
The three stood, Ossaroo lightly grasping his bow, but not thinking of the weapon; Karl holding his rifle with its butt resting on the ground, and Caspar gazing interrogatively in the face of his brother.
For some moments not one of them spoke. Each guessed what the other was thinking of. The stag lay untouched in the pool, his huge antlers alone appearing above the surface of the water, while the dog stood baying on the bank.
Karl at length broke silence. He spoke half in soliloquy, as if his thoughts were busy with the subject.
"Yes, a precipice the whole way round. I saw no break—no signs of one. Ravines there were, it is true, but all seemed to end in the same high cliffs. You observed no outlet, Ossaroo?"
"No, Sahib; me fearee de valley shut up, no clear o' dis trap yet Sahib."
Caspar offered no opinion. He had kept farther out from the cliffs, and at times had been quite out of sight of them—the trees hiding their tops from his view. He fully comprehended, however, the meaning of his brother's observations.
"Then you think the precipice runs all around the valley?" he asked, addressing the latter.
"I fear so, Caspar. I observed no outlet—neither has Ossaroo; and although not specially looking for such a thing, I had my eyes open for it; I had not forgotten our perilous situation of yesterday, and I wished to assure myself. I looked up several gorges that ran out of the valley, but the sides of all seemed to be precipitous. The chase, it is true, kept me from examining them very closely; but it is now time to do so. If there be no pass out of this valley, then are we indeed in trouble. These cliffs are five hundred feet in height—they are perfectly impassable by human foot. Come on! let us know the worst."
"Shall we not draw out the stag?" inquired Caspar, pointing to the game that still lay under the water.
"No, leave him there; it will get no harm till our return: should my fears prove just, we shall have time enough for that, and much else beside. Come on!"
So saying Karl led the way toward the foot of the precipice, the others following silently after.
Foot by foot, and yard by yard, did they examine the beetling front of those high cliffs. They viewed them from their base, and then passing outward scanned them to the very tops. There was no gorge or ravine which they did not enter and fully reconnoitre. Many of these there were, all of them resembling little bays of the ocean, their bottoms being on the same level with the valley itself, and their sides formed by the vertical wall of granite.
At some places the cliffs actually hung over. Now and then they came upon piles of rock and scattered boulders—some of them of enormous dimensions. There were single blocks full fifty feet in length, breadth, and height; and there were also cairns, or collections of rocks, piled up to four times that elevation, and standing at such a distance from the base of the cliff, that it was evident they could not have fallen from it into their present position. Ice, perhaps, was the agent that had placed them where they lay.
None of the three were in any mood to speculate upon geological phenomena at that moment. They passed on, continuing their examination. They saw that the cliff was not all of equal height. It varied in this respect, but its lowest escarpment was too high to be ascended. At the lowest point it could not have been less than three hundred feet sheer, while there were portions of it that rose to the stupendous height of one thousand from the valley!
On went they along its base, carefully examining every yard. They had gone over the same path with lighter feet and lighter hearts. This time they were three hours in making the circuit; and at the end of these three hours they stood in the gap by which they had entered, with the full and painful conviction that that gap was the only outlet to this mysterious valley—the only one that could be traversed by human foot! The valley itself resembled the crater of some extinct volcano, whose lava lake had burst through this gate-like gorge, leaving an empty basin behind.
They did not go back through the glacier ravine. They had no hope of escaping in that direction. That they knew already.
From the gap they saw the white vapour curling up over the spring. They saw the remaining portion of the precipice that lay beyond. It was the highest and most inaccessible of all.
All three sat down upon the rocks; and remained for some minutes silent and in a state of mind bordering upon despair.
PROSPECTS AND PRECAUTIONS.
Brave men do not easily yield to despair. Karl was brave. Caspar, although but a mere boy, was as brave as a man. So was the shikarree brave—that is, for one of his race. He would have thought light of any ordinary peril—a combat with a tiger, or a gayal, or a bear; but, like all his race, he was given to superstition, he now firmly believed that some of his Hindoo gods dwelt in this valley, and that they were all to be punished for intruding into the sacred abode. There was nothing singular about his holding this belief. It was perfectly natural,—in fact, it was only the belief of his religion and his race.
Notwithstanding his superstitious fears, he did not yield himself up to destiny. On the contrary, he was ready to enter heart and soul into any plan by which he and his companions might escape out of the territory of Brahma, Vishnu, or Siva—whichsoever of these it belonged to.
It was in thinking over some plan that kept all three of them in silence, and with such thoughts Ossaroo was as busy as the others.
Think as they would, no feasible or practicable idea could be got hold of. There were five hundred feet of a cliff to be scaled. How was that feat to be accomplished?
By making a ladder? The idea was absurd. No ladder in the world would reach to the quarter of such a height. Ropes, even if they had had them, could be in no way made available. These might aid in going down a precipice, but for going up they would be perfectly useless.
The thought even crossed their minds of cutting notches in the cliff, and ascending by that means! This might appear to be practicable, and viewing the matter from a distance it certainly does seem so. But had you been placed in the position of our travellers,—seated as they were in front of that frowning wall of granite,—and told that you must climb it by notches cut in the iron rock by your own hand, you would have turned from the task in despair.
So did they; at least the idea passed away from their thoughts almost in the same moment in which it had been conceived.
For hours they sat pondering over the affair. What would they not have given for wings; wings to carry them over the walls of that terrible prison?
All their speculations ended without result; and at length rising to their feet, they set off with gloomy thoughts toward the spot where they had already encamped.
As if to render their situation more terrible, some wild beasts,—wolves they supposed,—had visited the encampment during their absence, and had carried off every morsel of the jerked meat. This was a painful discovery, for now more than ever should they require such provision.
The stag still remained to them. Surely it was not also carried off? and to assure themselves they hurried to the pool, which was at no great distance. They were gratified at finding the deer in the pool where it had been left; the water, perhaps, having protected it from ravenous beasts.
As their former camp ground had not been well chosen, they dragged the carcass of the deer up to the hot spring; that being a better situation. There the animal was skinned, a fire kindled, and after they had dined upon fresh venison-steaks, the rest of the meat Ossaroo prepared for curing,—just as he had done that of the yak,—but in this case he took the precaution to hang it out of reach of all four-footed marauders.
So careful were they of the flesh of the deer, that even the bones were safely stowed away, and Fritz had to make his supper upon the offal.
Notwithstanding their terrible situation, Karl had not abandoned one of the national characteristics of his countryman,—prudence. He foresaw a long stay in this singular valley. How long he did not think of asking himself; perhaps for life. He anticipated the straits in which they might soon be placed; food even might fail them; and on this account every morsel was to be kept from waste.
Around their night camp-fire they talked of the prospects of obtaining food; of the animals they supposed might exist in the valley; of their numbers and kinds,—they had observed several kinds; of the birds upon the lake and among the trees; of the fruits and berries; of the roots that might be in the ground; in short, of every thing that might be found there from which they could draw sustenance.
They examined their stock of ammunition. This exceeded even their most sanguine hopes. Both Caspar's large powder-horn and that of his brother were nearly full. They had used their guns but little since last filling their horns. They had also a good store of shot and bullets; though these things were less essential, and in case of their running short of them they knew of many substitutes, but gunpowder is the sine qua non of the hunter.
Even had their guns failed them, there was still the unerring bow of Ossaroo, and it was independent of either powder or lead. A thin reed, or the slender branch of a tree, were nearly all that Ossaroo required to make as deadly a shaft as need be hurled.
They were without anxiety, on the score of being able to kill such animals as the place afforded. Even had they been without arrows, they felt confident that in such a circumscribed space they would have been able to circumvent and capture the game. They had no uneasiness about any four-footed creature making its escape from the valley any more than themselves. There could be no other outlet than that by which they had entered. By the ravine only could the four-footed denizens of the place have gone out and in; and on the glacier they had observed a beaten path made by the tracks of animals, before the snow had fallen. Likely enough the pass was well-known to many kinds, and likely also there were others that stayed continually in the valley, and there brought forth their young. Indeed, it would have been difficult for a wild animal to have found a more desirable home.
The hope of the hunters was that many animals might have held this very opinion, and from what they had already observed, they had reason to think so.
Of course they had not yet abandoned the hope of being able to find some way of escape from their singular prison. No, it was too early for that. Had they arrived at such a conviction, they would have been in poor heart indeed, and in no mood for conversing as they did. The birds and the quadrupeds, and the fruits and roots, would have had but little interest for them with such a despairing idea as that in their minds. They still hoped, though scarce knowing why; and in this uncertainty they went to rest with the resolve to give the cliffs a fresh examination on the morrow.
CHAPTER THIRTY ONE.
MEASURING THE CREVASSE.
Again, on the morrow, every foot of the precipitous bluffs was minutely scanned and examined. The circuit of the valley was made as before. Even trees were climbed in order the better to view the face of the cliffs that soared far above their tops. The result was a full conviction, that to scale the precipice at any point was an utter impossibility.
Until fully convinced of this, they had not thought of going back through the gap that led to the glacier; but now that all hopes of succeeding elsewhere had vanished from their minds, they proceeded in that direction.
They did not walk towards it with the light brisk step of men who had hopes of success; but rather mechanically, as if yielding to a sort of involuntary impulse. As yet they had not examined the ice-chasm very minutely.
Awed by the terror of the glacier slide, they had retreated from the spot in haste. One glance at the crevasse was all they had given; but in that glance they had perceived the impossibility of crossing it. At the time, however, they were not aware of the resources that were so near. They were not aware that within less than five hundred yards of the spot grew a forest of tall trees. Indeed, it was not until they had fully reconnoitred the cliffs, and turned away from them in despair, that such a train of reasoning occurred to tha mind of any of the three.
As they were entering the portals of that singular passage, the thought seemed for the first time to have taken shape. Karl was the first to give expression to it. Suddenly halting, he pointed back to the forest, and said,—
"If we could bridge it!"
Neither of his companions asked him what he contemplated bridging. Both were at that moment busy with the same train of thought. They knew it was the crevasse.
"Those pine-trees are tall," said Caspar.
"Not tall enough, Sahib," rejoined the shikarree.
"We can splice them," continued Caspar.
Ossaroo shook his head, but said nothing in reply.
The idea, however, had begotten new hopes; and all three walked down the ravine with brisker steps. They scanned the cliffs on either side as they advanced, but these they had examined before.
Treading with caution they approached the edge of the crevasse. They looked across. A hundred feet wide—perhaps more than a hundred feet— yawned that fearful gulf. They knelt down and gazed into the chasm. It opened far away into the earth—hundreds of feet below where they knelt. It narrowed towards the bottom. They could see the crystal cliffs, blue at the top, grow greener and darker as they converged towards each other. They could see huge boulders of rock and masses of icy snow wedged between them, and could hear far below the roaring of water. A torrent ran there—no doubt the superfluous waters of the lake escaping by this subglacial stream.
A sublime, but terrible sight it was; and although the nerves of all were strung to an extreme degree, it made them giddy to look into the chasm, and horrid feelings came over them as they listened to the unnatural echoes of their voices. To have descended to the bottom would have been a dread peril: but they did not contemplate such an enterprise. They knew that such a proceeding would be of no use, even could they have accomplished it. Once in the bottom of the chasm the opposite steep would still have to be climbed, and this was plainly an impossibility. They thought not of crossing in that way—their only hope lay in the possibility of bridging the crevasse; and to this their whole attention was now turned.
Such a project might appear absurd. Men of weaker minds would have turned away from it in despair; and so, too, might they have done, but for the hopelessness of all other means of escape. It was now life or death with them—at all events, it was freedom or captivity.
To give up all hope of returning to their homes and friends—to spend the remainder of their lives in this wild fastness—was a thought almost as painful as the prospect of death itself.
It was maddening to entertain such a thought, and as yet not one of them could bring himself to dwell upon the reality of so terrible a destiny. But the fact that such in reality would be their fate, unless they could discover some mode of escaping from their perilous situation, sharpened all their wits; and every plan was brought forward and discussed with the most serious earnestness.
As they stood gazing across that yawning gulf, the conviction entered their minds that it was possible to bridge it.
Karl was the first to give way to this conviction. Caspar, ever sanguine, soon yielded to the views of his brother; and Ossaroo, though tardily convinced, acknowledged that they could do no better than try. The scientific mind of the botanist had been busy, and had already conceived a plan—which though it would be difficult of execution, did not seem altogether impracticable. On one thing, however, its practicability rested—the width of the chasm. This must be ascertained, and how was it to be done?
It could not be guessed—that was clear. The simple estimate of the eye is a very uncertain mode of measuring—as was proved by the fact that each one of the three assigned a different width to the crevasse. In fact, there was full fifty feet of variation in their estimates. Karl believed it to be only a hundred feet in width, Ossaroo judged it at a hundred and fifty, while Caspar thought it might be between the two. How, then, were they to measure it exactly? That was the first question that came before them.
Had they been in possession of proper instruments, Karl was scholar enough to have determined the distance by triangulation; but they had neither quadrant nor theodolite; and that mode was therefore impossible.
I have said that their wits were sharpened by their situation, and the difficulty about the measurement was soon got over. It was Ossaroo who decided that point.
Karl and Caspar were standing apart discussing the subject, not dreaming of any aid from the shikarree upon so scientific a question, when they perceived the latter unwinding a long string, which he had drawn from his pocket.
"Ho!" cried Caspar, "what are you about, Ossaroo? Do you expect to measure it with a string?"
"Yes, Sahib!" answered the shikarree.
"And who is to carry your line to the opposite side, I should like to know?" inquired Caspar.
It seemed very ridiculous, indeed, to suppose that the chasm could be measured with a string—so long as only one side of it was accessible; but there was a way of doing it, and Ossaroo's native wit had suggested that way to him.
In reply to Caspar's question, he took one of the arrows from his quiver, and, holding it up, he said,—
"This, Sahib, this carry it."
"True! true!" joyfully exclaimed the brothers; both of whom at once comprehended the design of the shikarree.
It cost Ossaroo but a few minutes to put his design into execution. The string was unwound to its full extent. There were nearly a hundred yards of it. It was stretched tightly, so as to clear it of snarls, and then one end was adjusted to the shaft of the arrow. The other end was made fast to a rock, and after that the bow was bent, and the arrow projected into the air.
A shout of joy was raised as the shaft was seen to fall upon the snowy surface on the opposite side; and the tiny cord was observed, like the thread of a spider's web, spanning the vast chasm.
Ossaroo seized the string in his hand, drew the arrow gently along until it rested close to the opposite edge; and then marking the place with a knot, he plucked the arrow till it fell into the chasm, and hand over hand commenced winding up the string.
In a few moments he had recovered both cord and arrow; and now came the important part, the measurement of the string.
The hearts of all three beat audibly as foot after foot was told off; but a murmur of satisfaction escaped from all, when it was found that the lowest estimate was nearest the truth. The chasm was about a hundred feet wide!
CHAPTER THIRTY TWO.
Karl felt confident they could bridge the crevasse. The only weapons they had were their knives, and a small wood hatchet which Ossaroo chanced to have in his belt when they set out in chase of the musk-deer. True they had their guns, but of what service could these be in making a bridge?
Ossaroo's knife, as already described, was a long-bladed one,—half knife, half sword,—in fact, a jungle knife. The hatchet was not larger than an Indian tomahawk; but with these weapons Karl Linden believed he could build a bridge of one hundred feet span!
He communicated to his companions his plan in detail, and both believed in its feasibility. I need hardly say that under such a belief their spirits rose again; and, though they felt that success was far from certain, they were once more filled with hope; and having taken all the necessary steps, in regard to measuring the narrowest part of the crevasse, and noted the ground well, they returned to the valley with lighter hearts.
The bridge was not to be the work of a day, nor a week, nor yet might a month suffice. Could they only have obtained access to both sides of the chasm it would have been different, and they could easily have finished it in less time. But you are to remember that only one side was allowed them to work upon, and from this they would of necessity have to project the bridge to the other. If they could even have got a cable stretched across, this would have been bridge enough for them, and they would have needed no other. A cable, indeed! They would soon have found their way over upon a cable or even a stout rope; but the stoutest communication they had was a slender string, and only an arrow to hold it in its place!
The genius of Karl had not only projected the bridge, but a mode of placing it across the chasm, though many a contrivance would have to be adopted, before the work could be finished. Much time would require to be spent, but what of time when compared with the results of failure or success?
The first thing they did was to build them a hut. The nights were cold, and growing colder, for the Himalaya winter was approaching, and sleeping in the open air, even by the largest fire they might make, was by no means comfortable. They built a rude hovel therefore, partly of logs, and partly of stone blocks, for it was difficult to procure logs of the proper length, and to cut them with such tools as they had would have been a tedious affair. The walls were made thick, rough, and strong; the interstices were matted and daubed with clay from the bed of the rivulet; the thatch was a sedge obtained from the lake; and the floor of earth was strewed with the leaves of the sweet-smelling rhododendron. The hole was left for the smoke to escape. Several granite slabs served for seats—tables were not needed—and for beds each of the party had provided himself with a thick mattress of dried grass and leaves. With such accommodations were the hunters fain to content themselves. They felt too much anxiety about the future to care for present luxuries.
They were but one single day in building the hut. Had there been bamboos at hand, Ossaroo would have constructed a house in half the time, and a much handsomer one. As it was, their hovel occupied them just a day, and on the next morning they set to work upon the bridge.
They had agreed to divide the labour; Karl with the axe, and Ossaroo with his large knife, were to work upon the timbers; while Caspar was to provide the food with his double-barrelled gun, helping the others whenever he could spare time.
But Caspar found another purpose for his gun besides procuring meat. Ropes would be wanted, long tough ropes; and they had already planned it, that these should be made from the hides of the animals that might be killed. Caspar, therefore, had an important part to play. Two strong cables would be required, so Karl told him, each about a hundred feet in length, besides many other ropes and cords. It would be necessary to hunt with some success before these could be obtained. More than one large hide, a dozen at least, would be required; but Caspar was just the man to do his part of the work, and procure them.
For the timbers, the trees out of which they were to be made had already been doomed. Even that morning four trees had been marked by the axe and girdled. These were pine-trees, of the species known as Thibet pines, which grow to a great height, with tall trunks clear of branches full fifty feet from the ground. Of course it was not the largest trees that were chosen; as it would have cost too much labour to have reduced their trunks to the proper dimension, and particularly with such tools as the workmen had. On the contrary, the trees that were selected were those very near the thickness that would be required; and but little would have to be done, beyond clearing them of the bark and hewing the heavier ends, so as to make the scantling of equal weight and thickness all throughout their length. The splicing each two of them together would be an operation requiring the greatest amount of care and labour.
All their designs being fully discussed, each set about his own share of the work. Karl and Ossaroo betook themselves to the pine-forest, while Caspar prepared to go in search of the game.
CHAPTER THIRTY THREE.
"Now," said Caspar to himself, as he shouldered his double-barrelled gun, and started forth, "now to find that same herd of grunters! They're the biggest animals here I fancy, and their beef's not bad—the veal isn't, I know. Besides, the hide of the old bull would make—let me see—how many yards of rope."
Here Caspar entered into a mental calculation as to what length of rawhide rope, of two inches in diameter, might be twisted out of the yak bull's skin. Karl had said two inches in diameter would be strong enough for his purpose, provided the hide of the animal was as tough as ordinary cow's hide; and this the skin of the yak really is.
The young hunter, after much computation, having stripped the great bull of his skin, and spread it out upon the grass, and measured it—all in fancy of course—and cut it into strips of near three inches in width— had arrived at the conclusion that he would get about twenty yards of sound rope out of the hide.
Then he submitted the skins of the cows to a similar process of measurement. There were four of them—there had been five, but one was already killed. To each of the four Caspar allowed a yield of ten yards of rope—as each of them was only a little more than half the size of the bull—besides their skins would not be either so thick or so strong.
There were four half-grown yaks—young bulls and heifers. Caspar remembered the number well, for he had noted this while stalking them. To these he allowed still less yield than to the cows—perhaps thirty yards from the four. So that the hides of all—old bull, cows, and yearlings—would, according to Caspar's calculation, give a cable of ninety yards in length. What a pity it would not make a hundred—for that was about the length that Karl had said the cable should be. True, there were some young calves in the herd, but Caspar could make no calculation on these. Their skins might serve for other purposes, but they would not do for working up into the strong cable which Karl required.
"Maybe there is more than the one herd in the valley," soliloquised Caspar. "If so it will be all right. Another bull would be just the thing;" and with this reflection the hunter brought his double-barrel down, looked to his flints and priming, returned the gun to his shoulder, and then walked briskly on.
Caspar had no fear that he should be able to kill all the yaks they had seen. He was sure of slaughtering the whole herd. One thing certain, these animals could no more get out of the valley than could the hunter himself. If they had ever been in the habit of going out of it to visit other pastures, they must have gone by the glacier; and they were not likely to traverse that path any more. The hunter now had them at an advantage—in fact, they were regularly penned up for him!
After all, however, it was not such a pen. The valley was a full mile in width, and rather better in length. It was a little country of itself. It was far from being of an even or equal surface. Some parts were hilly, and great rocks lay scattered over the surface here and there, in some places forming great mounds several hundred feet high, with cliffs and ravines between them, and trees growing in the clefts. Then there were dark woods and thick tangled jungle tracts, where it was almost impossible to make one's way through. Oh, there was plenty of covert for game, and the dullest animal might escape from the keenest hunter in such places. Still the game could not go clear away; and although the yaks might get off on an occasion, they were sure to turn up again; and Caspar trusted to his skill to be able to circumvent them at one time or another.
Never in his life before had Caspar such motives for displaying his hunter-skill. His liberty—that of all of them—depended on all his success in procuring the necessary number of hides; and this was spur enough to excite him to the utmost.
In starting forth from the hut, he had taken his way along the edge of the lake. Several opportunities offered of a shot at Brahmin geese and wild ducks but, in anticipation of finding the yaks, he had loaded both barrels of his gun with balls. This he had done in order to be prepared for the great bull, whose thick hide even buckshot would scarce have pierced. A shot at the waterfowl, therefore, could not be thought of. There would be every chance of missing them with the bullet; and neither powder nor lead were such plentiful articles as to be thrown away idly. He therefore reserved his fire, and walked on.
Nothing appeared to be about the edge of the lake; and after going a short distance he turned off from the water and headed the direction of the cliffs. He hoped to find the herd of yaks among the rocks—for Karl, who knew something of the natural history of these animals, had told him that they frequented steep rocky places in preference to level ground.
Caspar's path now led him through a belt of timber, and then appeared a little opening on which there was a good deal of tall grass, and here and there a low copse or belt of shrubbery.
Of course he went cautiously along—as a hunter should do—at every fresh vista looking ahead for his game.
While passing through the open ground his attention was attracted to a noise that appeared to be very near him. It exactly resembled the barking of a fox—a sound with which Caspar was familiar, having often heard foxes bark in his native country. The bark, however, appeared to him to be louder and more distinct than that of a common fox.
"Perhaps," said he to himself, "the foxes of these mountains are bigger than our German reynards, and can therefore bark louder. Let me see if it be a fox. I'm not going to waste a bullet on him either; but I should like just to have a look at a Himalaya fox."
With these reflections Caspar stole softly through the grass in the direction whence issued the sounds.
He had not advanced many paces when he came in sight of an animal differing altogether from a fox; but the very one that was making the noise. This was certain, for while he stood regarding it, he perceived it in the very act of uttering that noise, or barking, as we already called it.
Caspar felt very much inclined to laugh aloud, on perceiving that the barking animal was neither fox, nor dog, nor yet a wolf, nor any other creature that is known to bark, but on the contrary an animal of a far different nature—a deer. Yes, it was really a deer that was giving utterance to those canine accents.
It was a small, slightly-made creature, standing about two feet in height, with horns seven or eight inches long. It might have passed for an antelope; but Caspar observed that on each horn there was an antler— a very little one, only an inch or so in length—and that decided him that it must be an animal of the deer family. Its colour was light red, its coat short and smooth, and, on a closer view, Caspar saw that it had a tusk in each jaw, projecting outside the mouth, something like the tushes of the musk-deer. It was, in fact, a closely allied species. It was the "kakur," or "barking-deer;" so called from its barking habit, which had drawn the attention of the hunter upon it.
Of the barking-deer, like most other deer of India, there are several varieties very little known to naturalists; and the species called the "muntjak" (Cervus vaginalis) is one of these. It also has the protruding tushes, and the solitary antler upon its horns.
The "barking-deer" is common on the lower hills of the Himalaya Mountains, as high as seven or eight thousand feet; but they sometimes wander up the courses of rivers, or valley gorges, to a much higher elevation; and the one now observed by Caspar had possibly strayed up the glacier valley in midsummer, guided by curiosity, or some instinct, that carried it into the beautiful valley that lay beyond. Poor little fellow! it never found its way back again; for Caspar bored its body through and through with a bullet from his right-hand barrel, and hung its bleeding carcass on the branch of a tree.
He did not shoot it upon sight, however. He hesitated for some time whether it would be prudent to waste a shot upon so tiny a morsel, and had even permitted it to run away.
As it went off, he was surprised at a singular noise which it made in running, not unlike the rattling of two pieces of loose bone knocked sharply together; in fact, a pair of castanets. This he could hear after it had got fifty yards from him, and, perhaps, farther; but there the creature suddenly stopped, turned its head round, and stood barking as before.
Caspar could not make out the cause of such a strange noise, nor, indeed, has any naturalist yet offered an explanation of this phenomenon. Perhaps it is the cracking of the hoofs against each other, or, more likely, the two divisions of each hoof coming sharply together, when raised suddenly from the ground. It is well-known that a similar, only much louder noise, is made by the long hoofs of the great moose-deer; and the little kakur probably exhibits the same phenomenon on a smaller scale.
Caspar did not speculate long about the cause. The creature, as it stood right before the muzzle of his gun, now offered too tempting a shot, and the right-hand barrel put an end to its barking.
"You're not what I came after," soliloquised Caspar; "but the old stag's no great eating, he's too tough for me. You, my little fellow, look more tender, and, I dare say, will make capital venison. Hang there, then, till I return for you!"
So saying, Caspar, having already strung the kakur's legs, lifted the carcass, and hung it to the branch of a tree.
Then, reloading his right-hand barrel with a fresh bullet, he continued on in search of the herd of yaks.
CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR.
Caspar proceeded with increased caution. His design was to stalk the wild oxen; and he had left Fritz at the hut, as the dog could be of no use in that sort of hunting.
He intended to stalk the animals with more than ordinary caution, for two reasons. The first was, of course, in order to get a shot at them; but there was another reason why he should be careful, and that was, the fierce and dangerous nature of the game. He had not forgotten the way in which the old bull had behaved at their last interview; and Karl had particularly cautioned him, before setting out, to act prudently, and to keep out of the way of the bull's horns. He was not to fire at the yaks, unless there was a tree near, or some other shelter, to which he could retreat if pursued by the bull.
The necessity, therefore, of choosing such a point of attack, would make his stalk all the more difficult.
He walked silently on, sometimes through spots of open ground; at others, traversing belts of woodland, or tracts of thickety jungle. Wherever there was a reach, or open space, he stopped before going out of the cover, and looked well before him. He had no wish to come plump on the game he was in search of, lest he might get too close to the old bull. Fifty or sixty yards was the distance he desired; and, with the large bullets his gun carried, he would have been near enough at that.
Several kinds of large birds flew up from his path, as he advanced; among others, the beautiful argus-pheasant, that almost rivals the peacock in the splendour of its plumage. These rare creatures would whirr upward, and alight among the branches of the trees overhead; and, strange to say, although nearly as large as peacocks, and of a most striking and singular form, Caspar could never get his eyes upon them after they had once perched.